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April 27, 2010

RWSA Board directs Frederick to review water demand projections

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) will consider one more study to determine if the community water supply plan adopted four years ago should be implemented. On Tuesday, the RWSA Board of Directors asked executive director Tom Frederick to find an engineering firm to study whether the demand projections on which the 2006 plan is based are still valid.

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Dave Norris
The move was made at the request of City Councilor Dave Norris. City Council has asked for multiple studies to reexamine various elements of the plan to address concerns by some citizens that it is too expensive and provides more water than the community needs.

In 2004, the firm Gannett Fleming published a demand analysis projecting that the community would require 18.7 million gallons a day by the year 2055 in order to meet “safe-yield” requirements for a growing population and for a severe drought.

Norris said he wanted that analysis to be updated with three new pieces of information: actual water consumption figures since 2004, data on the city’s conservation measures, and land use decisions made since 2004. For instance, Norris said the county might not need as much water because the Biscuit Run development will be a state park.

“Let’s keep it focused on those three inputs and not go back to square one,” Norris said.

The topic came up after Frederick asked for guidance on how to respond to state regulators regarding the future of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam.  Built in 1908, the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam has been operating under a conditional certificate after concerns were raised in a 1978 inspection. The RWSA has until August 2010 to let the state agency that oversees dam safety know if the dam will be replaced or if repairs will be made to address concerns that the dam could collapse after an extreme storm.

Norris said Frederick should simply tell state officials that the community is taking many steps to solve its community water supply plan, and should ask for another extension.

There are four studies currently underway.

Schnabel Engineering is expected to prepare a new cost estimate for a new Ragged Mountain Dam in time for the RWSA Board’s May meeting. At that time, RWSA will also brief board members on the pros and cons of three potential routes to pump water into the expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir, which needs to be filled by an external source because it has a very small watershed.

A study by HDR Engineering that will develop a cost estimate for a restorative dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has been delayed a month, and will now be ready in July. Volkert Engineering will have also completed a study on necessary improvements to I-64 to prevent spills from entering the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

In addition to the demand analysis review, another study that will not be ready in time for an August decision is one commissioned by the city on the feasibility of repairing the existing dam and building on top of it. Public Works Director Judy Mueller said a contractor has been tentatively selected, but did not release any further details. This study will likely not be ready until the end of the year.

Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd said he is listening to critics of the plan, but added he has not yet seen any data that leads him to reconsider the 2006 plan. He said he was concerned that by not moving forward, the community is losing out on a competitive bidding environment that could lower the costs of building the infrastructure called for in the plan.

RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney suggested that the RWSA Board may have enough information on which to base a decision on the future of the Ragged Mountain Dam by August.  However, Norris said Council can’t make a decision until they have a new demand analysis and a cost estimate for repairing the spillway. 

“It may well be that if forced to make a decision [on dam safety] without all the information that we need, Council [will] simply spend a few millions dollars to fix the spillway,” Norris said. “It’s worth it to take the time to get the information.”

Boyd made a motion to direct Frederick to find a consultant to perform the calculations at a cost under $30,000. That will allow the RWSA to bypass the public procurement process, which would require the issuance of an RFP.

Frederick said he was not sure if he would be able to accomplish that goal.

“We are being asked to do something that’s not commonly done, and we will be cautious to make sure that we are addressing exactly what the Board is wanting us to do,” Frederick said.

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